EnCouragement

Encourage

Interview with Jennifer Fisher of EnCourage Doula Care

(NOTE: While I hope that this post will provide information and be a positive resource for women and families, it’s important to note that the subject matter of this post involves pregnancy loss and bereavement.)

B: Jen, I’m so glad that you agreed to an interview for Birth Happens. There are lots of things that we could discuss, but I wanted to interview you about your latest venture into the world of Maternal Health as a Bereavement Doula. This idea might be something that’s new to my readers, and an important offering that people might not even know exists.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your family. When, how and why did you begin working in this field?

J: When I introduce myself, I say that I’m working in this field because of my family. My career started when I became a mom, with a great birth. I began volunteering with Nursing Mother’s Counsel when my oldest daughter was 6 months old. She’s now an ambitious freshman in high school!

Motherhood allowed me the time to volunteer additionally with Birthright of Vancouver, Washington where I listen to women while they take a pregnancy test or come in seeking resources. I always qualify my work at Birthright, while listed as a pro-life organization, as simply pregnancy support. I have no more ability to make a mom keep her pregnancy than I have to fly to the moon. I support moms wherever they’re at. The nurturing that I learned there, encouraged me to reach further in my career to become a certified childbirth educator over a dozen years ago, and now more recently, to become certified as a doula.

Baby number two came along two and half years after big sister. She taught me patience and that pregnancy and birth goes the way it wants. That birth also showed me how women working and supporting women during labor can be life altering! I had a doula, I had a nurse who believed in my goals, and I had a partner who was willing to watch me dig deeper and fight harder for this unmedicated birth. That support broadened my expectations of what we can do for each other.

Our miscarriage occurred less than two years later and I knew at the time, while we wanted and loved this little angel, his or her birth was there to teach me compassion for other women. It was then that I learned birth is not all rainbows and unicorns. While I knew this from a Childbirth Educator’s standpoint, it was in experiencing it myself that I really understood. Our baby’s name is “Eliti” which means “gift of the sun,” and I’m so clear in my work that this baby was a gift to us.

My sweetie and I were brave a few years later and got pregnant again. And this is where support from other women who had walked similar paths carried me through the pregnancy. I distinctly remember a conversation with my good friend Mary, who had experienced numerous miscarriages, when I asked, “When will I feel safe?” And she answered, “Maybe not until you hold that baby in your arms.” Our shared stories helped build up my courage.

My last kiddo was born at home as the sun came up, his 7 year old sister there to welcome him, and his almost 4 year old sister dragging her blanket into our room wondering what all the cheering was about. My family story is so intertwined with my career, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.

B: When did you start considering doing something “extra” in this field, in addition to your work as a Childbirth Educator?

J: Expanding my career to midwifery came while pruning the heather in my backyard! Heather is one of the flowers that struck me while I was on my pilgrimage in Spain, the Camino de Santiago, and I had planted some to commemorate that experience.

I realized in Spain that my career was intended to be about the babies. While pruning the heather in my backyard, the realization was it’s about the babies… and their mommas. So midwifery became the plan. Last year, I had to let that dream go as balancing school, tending to 3 acres, and my work as an educator did not equate to me functioning at my best, for everyone involved.

B: So, how did you make the move from midwifery to what you’re doing now?

J: Well, at the same time, a beloved friend endured a pregnancy with a fatal diagnosis. It was heartbreaking. I just kept racking my brain with the question, “Who is supporting her through this?!” She had a loving partner and family, but they were in the midst of dealing with their own grief. Who was supporting her?! That marked my transition to becoming a bereavement doula.

B: Why does this work matter to you personally?

J: I have always said that if I was not in the “beginning of life work” that I would be in the “end of life work.” Both have incredibly spiritual, profound moments that our culture as a whole does not recognize. I’m now able to do the work of witnessing both – and support the family whose world has been transformed by pregnancy and death.

B: How do you think your work as a bereavement doula will impact women and families?

J: When women and families acknowledge life and death, they can integrate these experiences and begin to process the emotions around them. For some, this may be more simple than others. I’m not here to judge women and families on how they do it. I’m here if they want support doing it. Yes, family and friends will be there, but even than that does not constitute best care practices. Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, do better.” By being trained to be a doula for both birth and death, I can assist families moving through their mourning and grief. Inevitably, when we are grieving, we seem to turn on those who are closest to us. With concerted support from a professional that sits outside the circle of family and friends, maybe the blow to ourselves and our loved ones can be lessened.

The other aspect of this work is integrating subsequent pregnancies and births. When we’re mourning, and we begin to assimilate the experience and move on from the loss, that has its own set of emotions. If, and when, we get pregnant after experiencing a loss, guilt can flood in and override our emotions. As a doula, being at the next baby’s birth, even with an expected positive outcome, is as important as the prior birth. This family may have a spectrum of emotions that need to be understood and they need to be reassured that what they’re feeling is normal. Experiencing happiness is okay – it doesn’t mean we love any less.

B: How do you envision working with families in this way? What does the model of care for EnCourage Doula Care look like?

J: EnCourage Doula Care was developed this year to offer birth and bereavement doula care in the Portland/Vancouver area. I’m happy to attend births wherever this family is ready to meet – home, hospital or birth center. It’s such a privilege to witness the birth of a baby and, a new family. My philosophy is, whoever can love this baby is the perfect parent. I’m happy to support any birth and family combination.

As typical for a doula, I would like to meet first, have a conversation about birthing ideals, then attend the birth and follow up with a postpartum visit. However, in loss, especially when it is sudden, attending birth to provide emotional and physical support is my first priority. Then we would meet postpartum as well.

EnCourage Doula Care is a community resource. I see working with families, maternal fetal medicine clinics and family birth centers as my primary focus. I envision my role as a bereavement doula as backup for the nurse who may have many additional jobs that need to get done when a family is experiencing loss – and I can be there to provide the emotional and physical support to help this family as they try to make sense of what has happened.

B: What are the next steps for EnCourage Doula Care?

J: The next phase is grant writing, so I can be paid for on-call bereavement care. I’d like to try and roll this out at a local family birth center so women who are having unexpected loss have bereavement doula support as an option. Lastly, I want to design a study to look at the impact bereavement doula support can have on the birthing family. Can we lower stress? Can we integrate care to lessen the negative postpartum impact such an experience can have on a family? Can we increase options of support for this mom and family so the processing of their birth and loss are complete?

B: What do you know for sure about the work you’re doing as a bereavement doula?

J: What I know for sure about this work is that I have no inhibitions about it. When midwifery was the end goal, I spent quality time stressed out about how I would manage school/work/kids/family. Now with this doula work, I feel completely at ease, that all needs will be met and that this is the path I was meant to be on. When we discussed it as a family, my husband and kids were so supportive that this work needs to be done, and thankfully – they believe I have the courage to do it.

B: Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to provide my readers with this information. I really believe in this work and in you! I also think this is the path that you’re meant to be walking and I’m thrilled to be able to refer my families who have experienced loss to you so they can better process and integrate this experience into their lives.

How can readers get in touch? Where can they find you?

J: I’m happy to answer any questions or meet to discuss care options. Please call, text or email me at Jennifer@encouragedoulacare.com 360-241-0277. You can look me up at www.encouragedoulacare.com or find me on Facebook at EnCourage Doula Care where I share all sorts of birthy things!

34 = A Spring Chicken, But 35 = An Old Bird?! I Cry Fowl!

Chickens

I was busy all weekend doing what I love: teaching expectant families all about how to get a baby out (Saturday – Express Class) and where to go when the baby is actually coming out (Sunday – Maternity Tour). It was a gorgeous, sunny, not-too-hot weekend and I was stuck inside both days catching glimpses of the sun when and where I could. AND I WASN’T EVEN MAD.

I mean, I saw how nice the weather was the night before, and I may have even mumbled, “Ohhhhhh, I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!” before going to bed, but some sort of alchemic transformation happens when a class or tour begins. And then I know I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not sure if anyone else can truly understand this, unless they too, are lucky enough to have a job that they love.

At the end of class on Saturday, a healthy and fit-looking young couple came up to me to ask a question about their particular situation. “I’m 35 years old,” she began and I already knew where this was going… “And yours is considered a “Geriatric Pregnancy,” am I right?” She kind of laughed and then said, “Yep – ‘Advanced Maternal Age!’ And my provider wants to induce me at 39 weeks. I just wanted to know what my chances are of having an induction that goes okay. One that won’t end with a Cesarean.”

Now, I don’t know the particulars of this woman’s health history, and I’m not a medical provider, so I’m not going to debate this plan of action. But I could tell that she wanted to know if this induction at 39 weeks would be considered “medically necessary.” Again, without knowing her personal health history, I’m not going there with her.

Here’s what I told her instead: “If your provider had a Momma over the age of 35 who had a “negative outcome” during their birth, it might change how they practice from that point forward. But many providers are only looking at the relative risk of increased complications that can happen to women over the age of 35. Is your provider looking at your absolute risk?”

This is not something that many providers consider. They read a study that says a woman’s risk of stillbirth increases after the age of 35, but their focus remains solely on the age of the woman in their care, and this can translate into only discussing her relative risk. If they were looking at the woman’s age as just one of several other risk factors that might contribute to or lessen their overall risk, this would mean that they were considering the absolute risk. Too many women don’t even know to ask about relative vs absolute risk, and too many providers are not forthcoming with this information.

Pregnant women and their partners should be able to determine their individual, personal absolute risk of complications and what those complications are if they wait to deliver spontaneously at term, as opposed to being encouraged to deliver early via induction at 39 weeks, because their is a relative risk of increased stillbirth for women over the age of 35.

The risk is real, it’s true – but there are many, many other factors to consider in assessing an individual woman’s absolute risk of any complications, not just the risks associated with “Advanced Maternal Age.”

I might be a little bit touchy on this subject, if I’m being completely honest. I mean, I didn’t get married until I was 28. I had my first child at 31. Baby #2 came along when I was 33 1/2. My third was born when I was (gasp!) 37, and the last one came along at the ripe old age of 41.

And while it is true that my relative risk of stillbirth climbed with my age, my absolute risk as a multipara with Baby #4 was probably lower than that of a primipara at a much younger age. Part of that lowered absolute risk has to do with my proven record of straight-forward, healthy pregnancies and deliveries. And part can be attributed to the fact that I was in much better health at 41 than I’d been when I began this whole baby-making enterprise ten years earlier!

The language – older mother, mature, advanced maternal age, elderly, and my personal favorite, geriatric pregnancy – coupled with the assumption that a woman is automatically high-risk because of her age really bothers me! The power of words cannot be understated. And when a woman is told that she is high-risk, strictly because she is over the age of 35, with no other known risk factors, this absolutely affects how she experiences her pregnancy and can have negative implications for her birth! 

So with all of this as a backdrop, I suggested that this Momma do some research and that she might find some good information online. Rarely, do I send anyone to the inter webs for information. First of all – there’s just so damn much of it! How are you supposed to sift through all of the mountains of information that now exist in the world on the subjects of pregnancy, birth and parenting? But in addition to that, there’s just so much out there not evidence-based and that’s really scary!

That’s why I was so excited when I “met” Rebecca Dekker a few years back as she was just starting up her website, Evidence Based Birth. Rebecca wanted to create a resource for expectant families (and professionals!) that would review the latest research on a particular topic in obstetrics and translate the findings into something that someone who wasn’t a clinician or a researcher could actually understand.

She takes her time with each article and reviews everything, making sure to use “good” studies – meaning studies that are unbiased, that used the proper technique, assessment and validation tools, and that have statistically significant results. After she’s written her article, she submits it to her advisory Board to insure that the information that goes “live” on the website is exactly what she claims it to be: evidence-based. I know that if I send any of my families to her website, I can feel comfortable that the information they’ll find there is something I can trust.

How crazy is it that I took a look at the EBB website this afternoon and did a search for “Advanced Maternal Age” and found out that Rebecca was doing a free webinar on that exact topic in exactly three minutes! I know, right? Cue up the woo-woo music!

I quickly registered for the webinar and was happy to hear that the discussion I had with the Momma from my class about relative risk vs absolute risk was exactly what Rebecca would be covering in both the webinar and the written materials that accompany it on the website. I really hope that the Momma from class took me up on my suggestion and checked it out.

After doing this important work of researching, I encouraged her to have some more dialogue with her provider about her particular situation. In the end, she might come to the conclusion that an induction at 39 weeks is reasonable for her and her pregnancy. Or, she might not. But what is most important, is that she will be making a decision with her provider based on full information.

In this day and age, I think we should be encouraging women to know what their absolute risk vs their relative risk is so they can make truly informed decisions for themselves about their pregnancies, their births, and their babies.

In the meantime – can we please come up with another way of describing a woman who happens to be having a baby at the age of 35 or beyond? The terms we’re currently using are demoralizing. And I should know!

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Based on this article, us “Geriatric Mommas” will have the last laugh: “Women who had their last child after 33 were twice as likely to live to 95 or older, compared with those who had their last child by 29.”

I’m not a math whiz by any account, but if my calculations are correct, this means I will live to be at least 125 seeing as I had my last baby eight years after the magical cut-off  of “33” as quoted in this article.

But before I get my hopes up, I think I’d like to know what my absolute advantage is, not just the relative advantage based on my age.

Know what I mean?

Happy World Doula Week!

WDW

I can’t let this week go by without a shout-out to all of the wonderful women I know personally, and professionally, who’ve taken up the call to become a doula. A doula is a woman trained to assist other women in childbirth and/or to support a new family following the birth of their baby. And this is the week we are celebrating women all over the globe who do this incredible work!

Over 20 years ago, I was working as a temporary office monkey between jobs and wondering what it was that I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Across my desk one day came the company’s monthly newsletter and on the front page was an article about “doulas.” I’d never heard of this word before, and the concept intrigued me.

A few days later as I drove home during my lunch hour, there was a story about doulas on NPR’s show, “Talk of The Nation.” I had a “driveway moment” and couldn’t get out of the car until the story was over. My curiosity was growing. 

But it wasn’t until my best friend announced her pregnancy and asked me to be at the birth that I got serious about this idea: “Maybe I should become a doula!” I’m not an overly woo-woo person, but all of these things seemed to be pointing me in the direction of birth.

After some searching, I found out that The Seattle Midwifery School (300 miles North of my home in Portland) was offering a doula training that would conclude before my friend’s due date. Everything seemed to be lining up – so I signed up. I was hooked on birth immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I never went so far as to complete the work of being certified as a doula. Finding scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator kept me in the world of birth and allowed me to focus on having my own family. But every now and again, I’ve had the honor of being a doula at the births of friends, neighbors, or women who had no support or financial ability to pay for a doula.

It is such a gift to be with a woman when she’s giving birth. Helping her find her inner strength and witnessing the parents and the baby lock eyes on one another for the first time – it’s one of the most awesome experiences ever (that word is so overused in our culture, but this is one area where it’s completely appropriate)!

So,thank you to all of the women who’ve answered the call to become doulas. You are very special women, indeed. You have an immense capacity for nurturance, calm, strength and advocacy. You’ve got incredible stores of flexibility, skills and knowledge and you’re somehow able to continue to do the hard work of labor support on little sleep and not a lot of food. You are the best example of how continuous physical and emotional support can make all the difference as this couple transforms into a family.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and praise for the work that doulas do in the world of birth. But don’t just take my word for it. Google “benefits of doulas” and you’ll get 359K hits in about a half of a second. There aren’t any studies that I know of that show anything other than positive results of having a doula with you in birth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of doulas, read this article written by Rebecca Dekker on Evidence Based Birth.

Having a doula at your birth can be linked to:

  •  Reducing the incidence of c-sections      
  •  Shortening the length of labor      
  •  Reducing epidural and analgesic requests      
  •  Increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation     
  •  Increasing mother’s satisfaction of birth experience      
  •  Reducing the incidence of postpartum mood disorders     
  •  Increasing new parents’ confidence in the care of their newborn

There’s really no downside to having a doula with you in birth or postpartum! A doula is worth her weight in gold. If you’re interested in finding a doula for your birth or for postpartum, one place you can look is the DONA International website. Other places to look would be your friends and co-workers. A lot has changed in 20 years! Many more women are using doulas in their birth and postpartum and personal recommendations can give you so much more than a website directory! Many CBEs also have referrals they can provide, if you ask.

My tips for hiring a doula: Don’t get stuck on how many births they’ve attended, or what “extras” they might provide (photography, massage, etc.) These might be wonderful additions, but I think it’s more important you feel you can hang out with this person for 24+ hours. A professional doula won’t have an agenda for what your birth “should” look like. She’ll be willing to support you, and your choices in birth. Make sure your doula and your partner can work together. If you’ve chosen well, your doula will help your partner feel like they had just the right support so they could be involved in the birth at the level they were most comfortable with.

Doulas can be an amazing support when a birth goes really well, but even more so they when a birth goes rogue. Your doula can help you remember what matters most to you in this birth experience and help you get as close to that as possible. On the other side of giving birth, you’ll share a bond with this woman forever and she’ll be an important part of the birth story you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Doulas are amazing women and I’m happy to publicly honor them in this way! A special shout-out to Liesl & Kathie (doulas) and Beth & Marilyn (midwives) for all of the doula-ing they provided me and my husband during the birth of our four children. I mean this honestly when I say it – we couldn’t have done it without them!

If you know a doula, please take time to honor them in some special way this week!

Practical Packing for L&D

Packing

This post is for all the Mommas who’ve asked me over the years, “What should I pack for the hospital?” But it’s especially for two particular Mommas who asked me over the weekend. One posed this question during an express class and I didn’t have time to get into my list, so I directed her to the one that was in her book. The other asked me on the tour if I had the info I was sharing with the group in written form. I promised that if she checked out my blog this week, I’d have it in writing for her. And I don’t go back on my promises.

So here, without further ado, is the world’s most practical packing list of things to consider packing for labor, delivery and postpartum. This is not comprehensive, these are just things that I know will get used and -bonus! – you probably already have them all.

Grab two separate bags – one will be for labor and delivery and one will be for postpartum and can stay in the trunk of your car until after the baby is born.

Pack your postpartum bag first – this one’s easy. It’s whatever you and your partner would normally pack if you were to go away together for a long weekend. All the toiletries you’ll need and comfy clothes that you’d like to wear while getting to know your newborn. The hospital usually provides nursing gowns, “special” undies, and the monster pads that you’ll be wearing for the first couple of days, so unless you have personal issues with wearing these, I’d just let the hospital worry about it.

But for going home, Mommas will want to pack something they wore when they were about six months pregnant – something that is loose and comfortable. You’ll lose a lot of weight according to the scale after you give birth, it just won’t look like you have. Remember: It took nine months to put the belly on, please be gentle and give yourself nine months to a year to take that belly off.

The only thing you should need to pack for your baby is an outfit for them to go home in. And, then… a back-up outfit. They almost always decide to do a huge poop as you’re trying to leave the hospital and you’ll have to change everything and put them into something new.

As for the “Labor and Delivery Comfort Bag,” don’t think you have to bring different lotions and massage tools. You shouldn’t have to go out and buy a bunch of stuff – it’s completely unnecessary. What you’ll end up using you probably already have. While I think it’s fine for the Momma to gather all the items for this bag, it’s better if partner packs it so they know what’s coming to the hospital and where it is in the bag. Once you’re admitted to a room on the L&D floor, partner needs to make sure to unpack the bag, or you won’t remember to use anything you’ve brought with you.

Things to consider:

A way to hold your hair off your face. Even if you only have bangs, you might want them out of your face and eyes.

What do you want to wear in labor? The advantage to using the sexy hospital gowns (with the open-air option in the back – ooh, la, la!) is that there are a million of them and if one gets dirty you can always put on a new, clean one. Birth is messy business. But if putting on a hospital gown will make you feel like a sick person, then wear something from home instead. Just make it something you won’t mind getting rid of after birth – because it will probably end up in the trash can.

Laboring Mommas get overheated during the pushing stage and their heart rate can mimic that of their baby in utero climbing somewhere between 130-160 beats per minute. It’s not unusual for women to take off their gowns because they’re so hot. If you’d like a little more coverage, a sports bra (that you don’t care about) under whatever it is you’re wearing would be a great idea. The quickest way to get your baby on your chest, skin-to-skin, after birth would be to cut the bra off, because trying to wrestle out of a hot, sweaty sports bra is like giving birth – and we’re only doing that once, if we can help it.

Moving onto partners: pack some good quick snacks you can grab to eat that will sustain you and help you help her throughout the birth. You can’t tell a Momma in active labor, “I’ll be right back! I’m just going to jet down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I’ll be back in about a half hour.” Not unless you want to hear about this for the rest of your life.

Pack a swimsuit for yourself. Every laboring Momma should be planning on using hydrotherapy (a fancy word for the shower or tub) to help her cope with contractions. Depending on the size of the tub, you might be able to get in with her. But you’ll definitely both be able to fit in the shower together and your nurses will continue to check on Momma’s progress. They’re super comfortable with naked pregnant people, but wildly uncomfortable with naked non-pregnant people! Cover up.

You’ll want to bring toiletry supplies, including glasses, contacts, a toothbrush and toothpaste for you both: Mommas will sometimes throw up late in labor and nobody likes barf breath. If you, dear partner, have eaten nacho cheese Doritos in the past six-eight weeks, she’ll be able to smell it on your breath. Don’t let that be the reason she’s throwing up!

Throw a hoodie into this bag, because her temperature might be all over the place during labor and you’ll appreciate being able to put on and take off an extra layer.

Mommas might feel overheated, but still have cold feet. Warm socks or slippers would be a good idea. The floors in hospitals are cleaned several times a day and are a lot cleaner than your floors at home, but they are hospital floors. Wear some sort of foot covering.

Pillows from home will be appreciated both during and after birth. Hospital pillows suck – they’re good for propping you up in the tub, but not much else. Your pillows will smell like home, which can be extra soothing, and will help get you better situated for breastfeeding on the other side. Make sure they’re coming in bright pillowcases so the hospital doesn’t mistake them as part of their stash.

Lip goop is a necessity! It seems inconsequential, but can become a huge irritant during birth if she’s using breathing as the great coping technique that it is, and her lips become dry and chapped.

Last, but absolutely not least, remember to make your “Birth Mix.” Yep, I’m talking about taking the time to come up with the playlist of music that you love and would want to listen to as you’re giving birth to your baby – the emphasis here is: music that you love. If you love Enya, or whale mating calls, or songs from the rainforest, then by all means make that mix. But if that’s not for you, remember there’s nothing that says you can’t rock out to whatever music you really enjoy. Quiet and mellow music has it’s place in labor – but so does AC/DC. You’ll want to have a mix of music to chill to and music to move to so that when it’s required, you can change the energy in the room.

And some sing-along music is a great idea, too. If you open your mouth in between contractions to sing the chorus of your favorite song, it’s really hard to stay tensed up. If your jaw is open, your cervix is opening. If your jaw is clenched tight, so’s your cervix. It’s called the “Sphincter Law.” I didn’t come up with this, renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin did. And here’s what she has to say: “The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, the vagina, and the anus to open to full capacity. A relaxed and open mouth favors a more open vagina and cervix.” Something to think about, for sure.

As for any other items you want to bring with you – go for it. This is just a list of what I consider the absolute basics and extremely practical things to consider when packing your “Go Bag.” As a Momma of four, I’m nothing if not practical.

Happy packing!

Are there things that I’ve missed? What other (practical) items would you consider essential to the labor and delivery bag? I’d love to hear what you think should be added.

Just Dance

Dance

Childbirth Educators usually encourage their families to consider dancing their babies out. Why?

Well, it’s an upright position which helps gravity do it’s job of bringing the baby down before it comes out (essential to the process, really). Dancing allows her pelvis to be nice and loose, and every move of her hips provides a tiny bit more room for her baby to make all the twists and turns that are necessary to be born. It also allows the woman and her partner to be in a position that really promotes intimacy and connection. This, in and of itself, can increase contractions and progress the labor due to increased oxytocin production. And lastly, dancing is a really easy position which can be cranked up or down depending on the circumstance. Is she trying to get her labor to pick up speed, or does she just want a slow swaying rhythm to help keep her in a coping mindset as labor intensifies?

I usually introduce this position in class as the “Middle School Slow Dance.” You know what I’m talking about, Momma places her arms around partner’s neck and their hands rest on her hips. Because I went to a Catholic school as a child, we were told by the nuns to not get too close – we had to “leave room for Jesus!” I’m pretty sure that when you were making this baby your bodies were not three feet apart, so leave Jesus out if it for now and move in really close.

There’s always a moment of awkwardness in class when we start practicing positions – especially this one. I get it – there’s usually a bunch of other people in the room and it seems silly. But if you practice positions before labor ever begins you’re much more likely to actually use those positions while having your baby.

Once families are in position, it cracks me up that I always have to remind them that the position is called “Slow Dancing” for a reason – dance, people! That movement of hips swaying from side to side, even if only a little bit, can have a real impact by providing a calming rhythm and some movement to help the baby maneuver through the pelvic structure and down the birth canal.

We can make this position even more comfortable for Mommas if we encourage them to lean directly onto their partner’s chest and drop their arms to their sides. Making this position more comfy for the partners might mean having them lean up against a wall, or sitting them on the edge of the labor and delivery bed – positioned just at the right height – so they can feel supported as they support her.

In my classes, this is about the level of dancing I can get my couples to practice ahead of time and in front of a small crowd of people. But, I’d love for them to think about dancing for real when they’re actually in labor.

I did some dancing this weekend – it was kind of spontaneous, and it might have involved a few beers and maybe some Karaoke – but it made me feel so good. My calf and neck muscles ached a little bit the next morning, and at first I couldn’t understand why. But then, I thought back to the jumping up and down and a little bit of head-banging that went on the night before and a big smile came to me. My whole body was remembering how happy I’d felt in those moments the night before, and then – bonus! – I got to experience the residual happiness I had in the memory of it all.

I think dancing in whatever way feels good to you – to try and induce labor, to distract yourself during early labor, or to encourage rhythm and ritual in coping with contractions as they intensify in active labor – should be taught and encouraged in all of our classes. I’m even considering another certification to teach families how to dance their babies out. I found this organization called, Dancing for Birth, while I was looking for YouTube video examples of how women have used dancing to either start their labors or get their babies out.

What do you think about adding dancing into your prenatal fitness routine, your labor and delivery toolbox, and even as part of your postpartum recovery? It feels like forever since I had my last baby – only 6 1/2 years, really! But I think if I were to have another (it’s never going to happen – I’m all done!) I’d consider using much more dancing throughout the process to help bring my baby into the world. Dancing your baby out might make the whole process much more fun and enjoyable – something to look forward to with excitement. And you know I’m all about that!

Did you dance your baby out? Does this sound impossible? Or does the thought of using dance to move through your labor sound wonderful? Let me know your thoughts about attending classes that specifically teach you how to dance for birth.

A Family That Thrives

FamilyBU

After my husband I got married, well-meaning people would ask us all the time, “When will you be starting a family?” Which was just the more polite way of saying, “When are you going to get busy and make some babies?” But weren’t we a family?

I mean, we had chosen one another out of all the millions of other people in the world “to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, till death us do part, etc.” (Our actual vows were different, but you get the idea…) I felt like we were a family already. A little island unto ourselves. Hoping to bring some things from our families of origin into our own family, but maybe hoping to avoid a thing or two as well. I felt in my heart, then and now, that we were a family long before we had any children of our own.

How much thought do you think we gave to what we would want to bring or hope to avoid when we actually got busy and started making some babies?

I’d love to tell you that we sat down beforehand and got clear with one another about all the most important aspects of parenthood. That we checked everything out first to see where our parenting similarities lined up, as well as identifying early on any divisions or discrepancies we might have. And that next, we respectfully dialogued with each other about the most thorny topics, finally coming to some well thought out compromises months before we even considered expanding our family so that the transition to parenting would go as smoothly as possible.

But sadly, no. That was not the case.

Like most expectant parents, we kind of fell head first into this parenting thing. And at times it felt like we were free-falling.

How’d we do? Well, it was a rough first year, if I’m telling the truth. In preparing our definition of family to include a newborn, we only got as far as answering “Yes!” to the following question: “Do you want to try and make a baby?”

When that process ended up not taking that long (I realize how lucky we are!), the focus shifted to handling the first four months of throwing up what felt like a million times a day. Then there was the fluttering feelings of baby moving in utero – which were both bizarre and thrilling at the same time – and my ever-expanding belly to distract us. All the aches and pains of pregnancy, coupled with my determination to maintain that nothing really significant had changed, didn’t provide very much time for reflection about parenting the little baby that was still snugly tucked inside of me. So the reality of negotiating what our family – which now included someone who had her own personality, demands, timeline and wacky schedule – would look like, was truly a shock to us both.

If there’s one thing that I would have liked to have done more of before I became a parent, it would be to have actually discussed with my partner what the reality of that would look like for each of us. What did we want our family to be? Not getting stuck in the lofty ideals of perfection (it doesn’t exist, people!) but identifying what that first year might really look like for us – as individuals, as a couple and as a new family. I would have liked to have known how different I would feel as a woman. I would have liked some insight into my husband’s experience of what it meant to wear the title, father. We’d already weathered a lot as a new couple and felt like our relationship could “handle anything.” But there were so many changes happening all at once, it often felt like we were reeling, making it all up as we went along. Starting a new family sometimes means making it up as you go along. But I wish there had been a roadmap on how to avoid the pitfalls and lessen the normal, everyday challenges that all couples go through when they transition to becoming a family.

I’m really happy to tell you that there’s a book that has been written that will give you all of that and more. It’s called, “Becoming Us – 8 Steps to Grow A Family That Thrives”, by Elly Taylor. I’ve been telling my classes that this is the book to get ever since I bought it last year. It’s a wonderful resource to help prepare for what it means to expand your definition of family. Elly provides a lot of practical, real-life scenarios to help families prepare for the transition to becoming a family before the baby arrives. And she also does two other very important things: she normalizes what happens in the first year of parenting, and provides realistic expectations of what this transition will look and feel like for new families. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Families come in all stripes, there is no one definition of what a family is. But when you are making the transition to parenting a newborn, there are some specific challenges awaiting you. Pick up this book as you’re preparing for your baby’s arrival, or even if the baby has already gotten here and you’re feeling like you wish this transition was going a little bit better than it has so far.

And share with your friends and family members the specific challenges you’re going through as a new parent. You’ll realize that you’re not alone, as your definition of family continues to change and grow.

How was the transition for you from couple to family? What resources did you rely on as your definition of family changed to include your new little baby? Please share them in the comments section, I love to provide my families with whatever resources I can.